The Big Market

By Jane Mountain | April 8, 2014

12,585 km so far.

The one problem with getting up early to go cycling is that, even on our days off, I can’t sleep in. I have been awake since 5:30, so to avoid waking Stephen, I slip quietly out of the room.

hotel pool siem reap cambodia

Early morning at the pool, Golden Mango Inn, Siem Reap.

There is a local market just a few minutes from our hotel, and I am eager to explore it in the early morning sun.

As soon as I am out on the street I discover that Cambodians get up early!

women on bikes siem reap cambodia

Cyclists outside the Golden Mango Inn, Siem Reap.

Just like the market we stopped in yesterday in the small town of Kralahn, this one is buzzing with human life (and animal death, but more on that in a minute). It seems that half the city is here, either preparing their goods to be sold, or buying what they need for the day ahead.

Men in the big market, Siem Reap.

Men in the big market, Siem Reap.

Cambodian markets are entirely different from the ones in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, which each have their own special flavours. Here, it seems, there is just more.

More stalls, more people, more noise… more everything!

I don’t know how I’d handle it if I was actually trying to buy something.

More more more, in the big market, Siem Reap.

More more more, in the big market, Siem Reap.

We learn later that this is called “the big market” to distinguish it from the many other smaller markets and tourist markets in Siem Reap. People from all over the countryside come here to buy goods which they can then resell in their own villages for a small profit.

You Eat What You Eat

This early in the day, everyone is in prep mode. Women busily chop the heads of dozens of fish as I walk by. Thwack thwack thwack go their knives on the circular wooden chopping blocks.

Because they sit on the ground to work, I can feel little sprays of fish guts on my shins and ankles as I walk past. I don’t even want to think about what I am stepping in as my feet squish along the walkways.

Umbrellas in the big market, Siem Reap

Umbrellas in the big market, Siem Reap

At eye level, there is a frenzy of meat carving going on.

Animals who were walking around only a few hours ago are taken apart piece by piece to be ready for this evening’s meal.

butchered pig on the back of a motorcycle

Is this what they mean by “going whole hog”?

As a vegetarian, I am a little disturbed by all the animal flesh around me. But I know that, unlike the animals in the sterile styrofoam packets in the supermarkets back home, the animals here probably lived a natural life in the open air before they met their end.

I also know that meat here is used sparingly, and as a means of survival. For some reason, this makes it seem a little less grisly.

They look so happy, don't they?

They look so happy, don’t they?

Even though I am slightly revolted, I look more closely at what is on offer. Of course there are plenty of pig hooves and heads. Fish heads are a hot commodity here, too. Frogs are everywhere, as are snakes.

Skinned frogs, ready for purchase, Siem Reap.

Skinned frogs, ready for purchase, Siem Reap.

I’m surprised not to see any lizards, considering how many we encounter on our daily rides. There are plenty of crickets, grubs, and other bugs, toasted to a dark and crunchy state.

Sausage in the big market, Siem Reap.

Sausage in the big market, Siem Reap.

Baskets of whole chickens, with their yellow puckered skin and stiff clawed feet glisten in the sun. Rats and dogs don’t seem to be part of the offering, but maybe I just didn’t look in the right place.

I try to blend into the background as I wander around, hoping to get some candid pictures of people at work.

Like mother like daughter, Siem Reap big market.

Like mother like daughter, Siem Reap big market.

But, since I am a foot taller and several shades paler than every other person in the market, my invisibility trick is ineffective.

Banana-induced traffic jam, at the big market, Siem Reap.

Banana-induced traffic jam, at the big market, Siem Reap.

Most people are not the least bit surprised by my presence. I am obviously just one of hundreds of farang who have wandered around this market, slack-jawed in amazement, pointing my camera at everything I see.

Together Alone

This was the perfect way to start my day of independence. Since we are stationary for a few days, we are taking the opportunity to spend the day apart, cashing in on some badly needed “me time”.

We spent our mornings cycling around different parts of the city, sampling the western offerings of Siem Reap. In the afternoon we sat by the pool. So not exactly “alone”, but we didn’t really talk.

By the time evening came around, we were more than happy to hop into a tuk tuk together, to go out for another round of happy hour cocktails and the best pizza we’ve eaten since Italy.  


  1. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie April 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Sounds like a really great day.

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